Press Release

The poetry of family at the Rothko Chapel

January 23, 2017

The poetry of family at the Rothko Chapel
“Concept of the Divine” series continues Feb. 21 with Willis, Aliki and Tony Barnstone

HOUSTON – Jan. 23, 2017 – The Rothko Chapel is preparing to host an event exploring the intersection of poetry, spirituality and family.

At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 21, the nonprofit’s new “Concept of the Divine” series continues with readings and conversation with Willis Barnstone, Aliki Barnstone and Tony Barnstone, three poets from the same family – a father, daughter and son. 

The three poets are also related to Howard Barnstone – Willis’s brother – one of the architects who designed the Rothko Chapel, located at 3900 Yupon St., Houston, 77006. 

During the event, each poet will read from their collection of work, examine their own personal concept of the divine and engage in conversation with each other and the audience.

A reception and book signing follow the program. The event is free and open to the public, with a suggested donation of $10.

“Willis, Aliki and Tony are each acclaimed and evocative poets in their own right -- with a rich family history with the Rothko Chapel,” the nonprofit’s executive director David Leslie said. “Poetry offers a window to the holy that sometimes dialogue cannot, reflecting essential human truths in such an artful form. We are lucky to have the Barnstone family as our guides for this event.”

The program is presented in partnership with Saint Julian Press, a literary and educational organization that promotes cultural conversations and interfaith awareness, acceptance and appreciation.

“Willis Barnstone has lived an amazing life and his work is amazing,” event moderator and Saint Julian Press publisher and CEO Ron Starbuck said.

Starbuck explained that Willis Barnstone was present with his brother Howard Barnstone during a visit to Mark Rothko’s studio in a former New York City firehouse.

“Rothko kindly showed him his work for the chapel one by one, and asked what he thought of them,” Starbuck said. “This was just before the work was shipped to Houston.”

“When you consider the diversity and depth of the Barnstones’ literary work as a whole, combined with their connection to Rothko, this becomes an occasion that celebrates and engages the mystery of creation in an artistic dialogue about humanity’s concept of the divine,” Starbuck said.  

Willis Barnstone is a poet, memoirist, translator, Hispanist and comparatist, who has written more than 70 books of scholarship and poetry. A New Testament and Gnostic scholar, he published “The Restored New Testament,” including the Gnostic gospels of Thomas, Mary and Judas. He is a Guggenheim Fellow, the distinguished professor of Comparative Literature Emeritus and senior scholar in the Institute of Biblical and Literary Studies at Indiana University. He has also received the Emily Dickinson Award, the W.H. Auden Award and a special citation for translation from the Pen/Book of the Month Club.

Aliki Barnstone is a poet, translator, critic, editor and visual artist. She is the author of eight books of poetry, most recently “Dwelling.” Her first book of poems, “The Real Tin Flower,” was published when she was 12 years old with a forward by Anne Sexton. She has been awarded a Senior Fulbright Fellowship, the Silver Pen Award from the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Literature Fellowship in Poetry and a residency at the Anderson Center at Tower View. She serves as Poet Laureate of Missouri and is Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Missouri.

Tony Barnstone is a poet, author, essayist and literary translator. In addition to his 18 published books, his work has appeared in dozens of American literary journals. His latest work, “Pulp Sonnets,” is a book of illustrated poetry based on 20 years of research into classic pulp fiction, Gothic literature, B movies and comic books, illustrated by Iranian artist Amin Mansouri. He lives and teaches in California, where he serves as chair of English at Whittier College.

The program will be the third event in the “Concept of the Divine” series, which provides a unique venue for speakers to share how their personal concept of God has changed over time and shaped their lives, their work, their service to the community and their understanding of their own identity. The series will continue on Thursday, May 25 with acclaimed writer and speaker Uddin Asma.

For event registration and for more information about the Rothko Chapel, the “Concept of the Divine” series and a full calendar of upcoming programs, workshops and events, visit or call 713-524-9839.


About the Rothko Chapel

The Rothko Chapel is open to the public every day of the year at no charge and successfully interconnects art, spirituality and compassionate action through a broad array of free public programs. Founded by Houston philanthropists Dominique and John de Menil, the Chapel was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary. Today it stands as a monument to art, spirituality and human rights. As an independent non-profit, non-governmental organization, the Chapel depends on contributions from foundations and individuals to support its mission of creating a space for contemplation and dialogue on important issues.

About Saint Julian Press

Saint Julian Press is a literary and educational organization with a vision to promote peace, cultural conversations and interfaith awareness, appreciation and acceptance. Their mission as a creative imprint is to identify, encourage, nurture and share transformative literature, while giving emerging artists, poets and writers a platform to share their work.

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